by Anita Mitchell, Ph.D. (in memoriam)
with slight edits by: Dr. G. Brian Jones
In the past we have suggested several ways to improve your listening skills. This time, turn your attention to the other side of the communication equation: speaking effectively.
Words are powerful! Jesus is described as the living Word of God (John 1:1 and Hebrews 1:2). Hebrews 4:12 goes on to make clear that this Word “. . . is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires.” God gave us the gift of speech, and scripture has much to say about how we exercise it.
Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to let all they said “be good and helpful” (Ephesians 4:29) that others might be built up by their words. Jesus tells us that what’s in our hearts determines what we say (Luke 6:45), and that one day we’ll be “called to account for every idle word” (Matthew 12:27) we’ve spoken. James asserted that you who can control your tongue can “control…in every other way “(James 3:2). These are all compelling reasons for you to put time and effort into improving not only what we say, but how we say it.
Just as listening is more than hearing, speaking is more than the words used. At times, words will fail you and you’ll be unable to adequately express what you think or feel. At other times, you might even be tempted to say thoughts that would be better left unsaid. At such times, what you say can heal or wound, build up or destroy, instill hope or discourage.
Speaking effectively is both an art and a skill. You can take steps to improve your abilities in this area. Consider the following strategies:
Seek God’s wisdom and guidance. Ask Him to show you hurtful or unproductive patterns in your speech. Request His help in building better habits.
Think before you speak. Consider what you want to say and your motivation for doing so. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say going to contribute anything valuable to the conversation?” Organize your thoughts so your listener can understand you.
Be truthful. Even when what you have to say is unpleasant or difficult, honesty is the best policy. At the same time, don’t use “being honest” as an excuse to purposely hurt or damage others. Combine truth with grace. Present your message in a caring way, not as a judgmental comment or personal attack.
Be open. Be prepared to have your ideas challenged, and be flexible enough to consider other points of view.
Choose a good time and place. Timing and setting will impact how your message is received. Be sensitive to the needs and preferences of your listeners.
Watch your tone, volume, and rate of speaking. Is it appropriate for what you want to say, the situation, and your listeners?
Use appropriate language. Avoid alienating your listeners by eliminating from your speech labels, innuendos, put-downs, sarcasm, and off-color comments. Use vocabulary that’s clear and understandable. Be certain that your humor is suitable.
Be brief. Don’t abuse your “free air time.” Remember that effective communication is made up of both listening and speaking. Pause to allow others to respond and share their reactions, ideas, and feelings. Work to understand other perspectives, and continue to show respect to individuals even when you disagree with them.
Best wishes as you work to improve your communication skills! For more ideas on being a skilled helper, see our Archive and What We Offer. E-mail your questions to our response team at email@example.com.
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